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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Of Snipe Hunts and Errant Bats, or, Will an Anthropologist EVER Learn?

  • Author(s): Roberts, Allen F.
  • et al.

In recent years, a number of humanities scholars have called for event-driven ethnographies of the particular as a tactic to mitigate the flattening of other people’s everyday lives, thoughts, and purposes, which has been so frequently represented in literature. What “messiness,” what oddities have been omitted from accounts that generalize about entire communities based upon a researcher’s few interactions with a few interlocutors? The following essay is an experimental attempt to tell a story from fieldnotes and recollections dating to the mid-1970s when I undertook 45 months of dissertation research among Tabwa people in what is now southeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. At many steps along this quirky narrative path, contingent truths are at play based upon what I understand to have been my Tabwa interlocutors’ ways of understanding such experiences—with the past tense here suggesting that an “ethnographic present” must be dated, especially given the turbulence of Congolese histories these last decades. Endnotes provide glimpses of Tabwa thinking, again based upon my sameday written records and after-the-fact memories of what a few particular people told me. I offer these in quite deliberate defiance of the standard editorial caveat that notes are not meant to be a parallel text: in this case, they are! Furthermore, my essay has no firm conclusion, no wrap-up, no convenient understanding. Instead, readers are invited to consider circumstances that struck me as unusual as they occurred, and to draw their own conclusions about how to understand the events and persons so described, including the anthropologist.

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